The Goaldendale Water Coaltion said 'No' to Nestle
It is always heartening to watch what a group of people can accomplish with a little bit of organizing and strategic action. The recent victory in the town of Goldendale, Washington against transnational water giant Nestlé is a perfect example.
Nestlé keeps hitting roadblocks as it searches for location to open up a water bottling facility in the Columbia River Gorge. As water sources in the Southwestern states dry up, Nestlé has set its sights on opening up shop in the Pacific Northwest where it currently has no water bottling facilities.
What the company didn’t gamble on was relentless public opposition wherever it goes. First, the community of Enumclaw, Washington acted swiftly to pressure the city council say no to Nestlé before the company could even make a presentation to the council—killing Nestlé’s bottling plans on the spot.
Next, Nestlé gained a foothold in the Columbia River Gorge town of Cascade Locks, where city leaders were eager for the jobs it promised. After an eight-year, uphill battle to open up shop in Cascade Locks that culminated in a brutal defeat at the ballot box, Nestlé started sniffing around the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge. It’s first attempt in Waitsburg, Washington went poorly, ending with the mayor’s resigning in the wake of revelations about his secret meetings with Nestlé.
Goldendale springs into action
In the most recent example of resistance, seven months ago, a vigilant reporter from the local Goldendale newspaper, the Sentinel, announced that Nestlé would be on the agenda at an upcoming City Council meeting. Having watched the fights against Nestlé throughout Gorge, the community sprang into action. With less than two weeks’ notice, some 200 citizens from the Goldendale area showed up at the meeting.
The majority of the 35 people who testified spoke passionately about why a Nestlé bottling plant was the wrong choice for their community. Some pointed to Nestlé’s bad practices in drought-stricken Southern California where Nestlé is pumping water without a permit from National Forest land. Local farmers and ranchers were worried that Nestlé would draw-down the water table. And an attorney from the Yakama Nation raised concerns that a Nestlé bottling operation might affect the water temperature necessary to keep fish alive in the warming Columbia River.
Farmer and rancher Paulette Lefever Holbrook told council members that water is central to her livelihood. “Water drawn from the aquifers could impact all for our valley residents both in town and in the county, so to have the City of Goldendale sell off water rights is not within the bounds that I believe are right,” she said.
One local resident even said he had come to the meeting ready to support the idea of Nestlé coming into town and now “wasn’t so sure.”
On the city council agenda that day was a decision: whether or not the council should send Nestlé a “letter of invitation,” something none of the other towns in the Gorge considered. Given the overwhelming opposition in the community, the city councilors and mayor made the judicious choice to do additional research before deciding whether to invite Nestlé into their town.
Following the meeting, a group of women organized and led an opposition effort to Nestlé’s water grab. One of those women, Nancy Fisse Davis, said she was encouraged by the example of community resistance in Cascade Locks.
“Their experience inspired me to become proactive as soon as I learned our Goldendale Mayor and City Council were considering an invitation to Nestlé,” she said.
Davis knew that early decisive action would be necessary to keep Nestlé form opening up shop and to prevent a long drawn out fight like the one in Cascade Locks.
However, after the first city council meeting, concerned Goldendale citizens found themselves getting little if any information about the proposal from city council members and the Mayor’s office. They ultimately made a public records request to find out the status of Nestlé’s proposal. MB Condon, another co-founder the Goldendale Water Coalition, spearheaded the records request.
“Word along the grapevine was that the Mayor had finished his ‘study’ of Nestlé and submitted his findings to the City Administrator for review,” Condon said. “The public records request was a way to force the Mayor to engage with the community.”
The Goldendale Water Coalition published an op-ed exposing some of the information they gathered, and called on the city council and mayor to walk away from making a deal with Nestlé. A week before the city council meeting, the opinion piece was published in the Sentinel. Despite earlier indications that local officials were willing to cut a deal with Nestlé, soon after the op-ed hit, the mayor published a report recommending “no further action” on the Nestlé bottling proposal.
Nestlé not welcome
These decisions don’t happen simply because elected officials want to do the right thing. They are the result of strategic action from a well-organized community, led by people like MB Condon, Nancy Fisse Davis, and Paulette Lefever Holbrook.
As an organizer who has been tracking Nestlé’s every move in the Northwest, and having been directly involved in the nine-year fight to keep Nestlé out of Cascade Locks, it is inspiring to see community after community take a stand and protect their water from Nestlé.
Before long it will be clear to Nestlé that it simply is not welcome in the Columbia River Gorge or anywhere in the Oregon or Washington.